Diskutanten am Tisch beim Event Demokratie im Stresstest

France after presidential and parliamentary elections: does French democracy pass the stresstest?

France has recently lived through two major elections. Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected but lost an absolute majority in the National Assembly. How can these results be interpreted? What do they mean for French politics and for the EU? Which trends and phenomena can also be observed in Germany, which not and why? 

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Dr. Andrey Demidov
Project Manager
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Anna Rachel Heckhausen
Junior Project Manager


These questions were the topic of the first round table discussion in the series ‘Demokratie im Stresstest’, held on September 19 at the Bertelsmann Stiftung Berlin Office. The series is a collaboration between ‘Democracy and participation’ project and the Berlin-based think tank Zentrum Liberale Moderne. The series examines how democracies in France, the USA, Israel, Poland, Hungary and the EU cope with various challenges of the present time.

Moderated by Ralph Fücks, the round table featured Dr Claire Demesmay, expert for Franco-German relations at the Franco-German Youth Office, and Michaela Wiegel, political correspondent for France at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as the main speakers and continued with an open discussion (Chatham House rules) with a diverse audience of experts from science, politics, business and civil society.

Declining trust in traditional institutions, new cleavages and identity crisis: the stress menu for French democracy

The French citizens still retain trust in the democratic qualities of their political system as a whole but lose trust in politicians and establishment, noted both speakers. In this respect, French democracy is distressed by a similar challenge as other democracies: citizens are increasingly skeptical about traditional representative politics and institutions and perceive establishment as distant and corrupt. Both left and right political parties are losing support and find it more difficult to act as transmission belts between citizens and decision-makers.

Traditional party politics is also challenged by emergence of two new societal divides: socio-geographical and generational. Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen have won the ‘urban’ and ‘agrarian-countryside’ votes, respectively. The young voters were not swayed by Macron’s promises and tend to support other political alternatives.

These shifts are occurring at times when France is living through a noticeable identity crisis as a global power. Unlike during the Cold War, when France was successfully mediating between East and West, nowadays its role as a global power is less clear, both politically and economically. Voters also show sensitivity to this issue. That explains, perhaps, frequent and systematic references, if not glorification, by both Macron and le Pen of the Gaullist France years. References to sovereignty are a strong undertone of political rhetoric in both camps.  

Does French democracy have enough resilience?

Both speakers agreed the answer is ‘yes’. Overall, the French political landscape is showing extreme volatility, unlike, for instance, in Germany, and voters may not necessarily be comfortable with this change. However, as speakers noted, this change is absolutely crucial for a desirable democratic renewal. This renewal is already taking shape: citizens are willing and do participate more via innovative formats like citizens’ assemblies, political parties are pushed to re-write their programs to attend to the most urgent challenges such as climate change, other political actors realize necessity of an intense political dialogue and compromise. This “new” French democracy is more lively and, essentially, more democratic. 

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